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This is a letter from Lee Lam Thye, Chairman of the National Training Council in the Star Newspaper. He can give a thousand excuses, a thousand suggestions, yet he cannot convince the public that the National Service is safe for our youths to attend. Healthy, young candidates just don’t die unless the management cares a hoot as to what happens to the trainees. 17 deaths is unbelievable, and while every death is purported to have a report, I am afraid these reports are gathering dust in files that people don’t know about. Has any commandant been disciplined for negligence, I wonder.

He laments he has no executive powers, and therefore he is just there for window dressing, and should be called an advisor and not chairman. Such being the case, even this letter is not necessary, the person who should comment is the Director General and not Lam Thye. He has been making comments all these while as if he has the power, but now we know he is just a patron and not a go between the council and the parents who are sending their children for training. Comments should only come from the Director General. This man has not said anything about the latest death or has he. Or, Lee Lam Thye is the spokesman for the council?

In any case, as usual in our government, finger pointing is a good form of good administration. Lee Lam Thye has said, those given responsibilities are not discharging their duties as expected. That is the crux of the problem. Deaths occur because of negligence and only such tragedies can be avoided if the people responsible are dealt with severely.

In any case Lee Lam Thye has got another month in his contract. He is unable to take responsibility for the deaths, because he has no executive powers. Let us see if he wants continue, as Chairman without powers or just quit and show he is ‘devastated by the deaths’.

THE National Service Training Council, acting as an advisory body to the Defence Minister, cannot be unconcerned over yet another health-related death of a National Service Trainee Too Hui Min from the Geo Cosmo National Service Training Camp in Selangor.

Every time an NS trainee dies while undergoing training, I am devastated. I put myself in the position of the parents concerned and fully understand their sense of loss, anguish and suffering.

Since I accepted the appointment of Chairman of the National Service Training Council for a three-year term in June 2005, I have served with commitment and do my utmost best simply because it is a responsibility and a trust and I spend almost 90% of my time doing National Service duties.

I go to the office almost daily to assist the National Service Training Programme by providing feedback, complaints, suggestions and mete out advice to the National Service Training Department. I also spend a considerable amount of time listening to and attending to parents and needs of trainees who approach me from time to time.

In the course of two years, I have visited some 60 National Service Camps, giving motivational talks to the trainees while at the same time reminding the camp commandants and their staff to ensure the proper management of the camps.

I constantly emphasise the need to be caring to all trainees and treat them as if the trainees are their own children. I had also called on all camp commandants to take all the necessary steps within their powers to ensure camps are problem-free and strive towards zero-deaths.

There is only so much I can do as a non-executive chairman given the fact that I do not have executive powers. I am never directly involved in the administration and management of the National Service Training Programme and the camps which falls squarely on the shoulders of the National Service Training Department’s Director-General and his officers. Camp commandants take directives and instructions from the director-general and his officers.

The health and safety of trainees are among the many issues brought up by the council members each time the National Service Training Council meets. In fact the idea of mandatory medical check-ups for National Service Trainees prior to their participation in the programme was recommended three years ago but it could not be implemented by the Ministry of Health.

Just two weeks ago, I met with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence to discuss the need to revisit the suggestion of compulsory medical check-ups for National Service trainees. I even recommended recruiting full-time doctors to be stationed in all camps.

But even with compulsory medical check-ups, there is no assurance that trainees, who have been certified healthy, will not fall ill in the course of their three-month stay in the camps. Hence, what is necessary is for all medical complaints of trainees to be properly investigated and attended to.

If sick trainees show no signs of improvement after 24 hours, they must be sent immediately to the nearest hospital for further treatment as stated in the Standing Operating Procedure. Camp commandants and the medical personnel in the camps must never take risks when it comes to the health of the trainees. Every illness must be treated seriously no matter how trivial it may be.

Calls from the public for each death to be thoroughly investigated, the results to be made public and action taken against those responsible must be carried out in line with transparency.

As chairman of the council I am compelled to state that each time a death occurs in the camps, it nullifies all the good work and efforts put in by the council and the Department to promote the National Service.

Although many improvements have been introduced since 2004, what really matters is the implementation of these improvements by the people in charge of the camps. In the final analysis, what is crucially important is whether all those given responsibilities and the trust to manage the camps discharge their duties with care, honesty, integrity and a sense of commitment.

To me the caring approach, attitude and culture towards trainees needs to be further reinforced if we are to prevent any more mishap. I maintain that National Service training is a good programme for building discipline, character and unity as has been testified by the vast majority of former trainees and their parents but it has to be properly managed by committed and truly caring people.

TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE,

Chairman, National Service Training Council.

NS is good for youths

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